McMaster professor calls on U.S. officials in Washington


Brian McCarry has faced many roadblocks when lobbying for environmental actions. From monetary concerns to political grappling, he thought he'd seen it all. That is until he visited top U.S. officials in Washington last week.

McCarry, a professor of chemistry, was one of eight Canadian environmentalists who joined 30 American colleagues in the U.S capital to speak with senior government officials about the deteriorating state of water quality in the Great Lakes.

They were there to promote a proposed strategic change that would see $50-million US, previously allocated to improving the Great Lakes, concentrated in a small number of areas to ensure full cleanup rather than futilely spread across the region.

But, when they arrived in the capital, they found a virtual ghost town. The New Hampshire presidential primary, held on Feb. 1, had drawn away media attention from a city still cleaning up from a rash of winter storms.

“The (storm) had put the whole city into a tailspin,” he says. “It was hard to find anyone around.”

Their visit may not have garnered headlines, but it was still productive. The group met with the Council of Environmental Quality, an executive body connected to the White House, as well as with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Senator Carl Levin (Michigan), who chairs the Great Lakes Task Force.

While the Americans arranged meetings with their own state legislators, the Canadians set up an impromptu meeting with Ontario's minister of the environment Tony Clement, who was in Washington on other business.

The meetings were organized by Great Lakes United, an international coalition dedicated to restoring the Great Lakes ecosystem. McCarry was invited as a member of board of directors of the Bay Area Restoration Council and the Hamilton Air Quality Implementation Committee. He was also recently named the first recipient of McMaster's newly created Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair in Environment and Health.

There are currently 42 toxic hot spots designated around the Great Lakes; 11 are inside the Canadian border. McCarry has done significant work on the state of Hamilton Harbour, one of the most polluted bodies of the group. Despite the severity of the problem, he contends the general public isn't traditionally prepared to help efforts.

“It's easy to raise money for habitat restoration or to build a bridge of some sort,” he says. “No one wants to donate money to dig up sludge and improve our lakes.”

McCarry and his colleagues seek a simple solution: both the U.S. and Canada should simply enforce the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, first signed in 1972 and renewed in 1978. It's a call that has united environmentalists in both nations.

“We're not talking out of different sides of our mouth,” he says. “We're all singing the same song and want the same things acted upon.”